After adopting an orphan human boy, the First Herd is finally ready to make the treacherous journey across the mountains to find the Sweet Grass that promises survival. But when their leader, Estrella, is captured by cruel men, it delivers a blow to the very heart of the herd. If the horses turn back, they'll never make it across the mountains before winter. But if they leave Estrella in captivity, the wild-born filly will surely perish.
This is Part 3 of the Horses of the Dawn trilogy.
As a fan of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, I welcomed the opportunity to read Wild Blood. Although I have not read the other books in the Horses of the Dawn series, I knew from reading the Guardians series that this book would almost certainly be self-contained - and it is. I found it was quite easy to read as a standalone, and although there were references to the two books that preceded it, it was certainly not necessary to have read them first.
I do like the way that the animal protagonists are presented as though they are human. They display human emotions, human reactions, and the ability to think through a problem. And they include both good and bad and every variation in between. This means I could really relate to them and understand where they were coming from.
The main characters are the horses, with Estrella as their leader and inspiration. But there are other animals, too, who take their place alongside the horses. These include Little Coyote (later renamed Hope) who wants to prove that he is a better person than his evil father; Grace, the Mason Bee who knows all the complicated botanical terms for the flowers that she visits; Mikki, the Mule who lacks courage; and even Tijo, a human boy who lives with the horse family, and Haru, a spirit guide.
On the surface, this is a story about Estrella leading her herd family to freedom in a new land with the help of Tijo and Haru. Along the way, she encounters all sorts of difficulties including warfare and famine, and at one point she is actually captured by the enemy. But with the help of her friends she is able to escape and fulfil her destiny by rescuing her people.
There are references to various formal religions as seen through the eyes of a people that does not understand their logic, and indeed has no inclination to understand it. The spiritual beliefs that do resonate for the horses appear to have their roots in Native American teachings and beliefs, adapted to suit the needs of the family. On a philosophical level, this is actually quite deep, and for this reason I think the book is suited to older readers (12 and over) who will understand the more complicated themes. Younger readers may certainly enjoy the story but they probably will not get the more subtle nuances.
Other feats of heroism are also referenced. Estrella's story is in some ways reminiscent of the story of Moses as she is given spiritual guidance to break free from slavery, taking her people with her, and then to lead them across a treacherous body of water in order to deliver them to their promised land. I was also reminded of the struggle for black civil rights and the abolition of slavery in the United States as the book describes the pain of families being separated when their owners sell youngsters to new masters, and the joy when they are reunited by chance.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and plan to read it again at some stage. It has just the right balance of action and description, and encouraged me to think about issues that go far beyond the scope of the book itself. I will definitely be recommending it to others.
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